Biomechanics of Sport Concussion: Quest for the Elusive Injury Threshold

Kevin M. Guskiewicz; Jason P. Mihalik


Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2011;39(1):4-11. 

In This Article

Can We Study Biomechanics as a Means of Injury Prevention?

Our youth hockey study suggests that hockey infractions (penalties) occur at a relatively high frequency and typically result in higher measures of head impact severity than legal collisions. Infractions were observed in 17.3% (115 of 665) of all body collisions.[21] Collisions involving infractions had slightly higher linear accelerations and HIT severity profiles than collisions with no infraction. The HIT severity profile is a principal component score containing linear acceleration, rotational acceleration, impact duration, and weighted by impact location; it was found to be more predictive of injury than other classical measures of head impact severity alone.[7] Elbowing, head contact, and high sticking infractions resulted in greater linear acceleration than collisions with no infraction. A strong trend for higher rotational accelerations in this infraction type compared with legal collisions also was present. We concluded that athletes and coaches should conform to playing rules, and officials should more stringently enforce existing rules and assess more severe penalties to participants who purposefully attempt to foul an opponent at the youth ice hockey level.

In addition, our hockey research findings support the notion that the ability to anticipate a collision may play a role in minimizing head impact severity.[20] We found impacts occurring in the open ice and those which were deemed unanticipated resulted in slightly higher impact forces than impacts along the playing boards and those deemed to be anticipated, respectively. This represents a continued need to educate our players with the necessary technical skills needed to heighten their awareness on the ice. Clinically, coaches and athletes should incorporate body-checking exercises in practices and spend time educating young athletes on proper checking techniques to minimize the risk of injury and increase the safety of ice hockey.

These findings, combined with our football results, suggest that the study of biomechanics may be useful in influencing rule changes for improving safety in these respective sports. Such changes would aim to prevent open-field/open ice collisions in which players may be ill prepared and vulnerable to sustain high-level impacts to the head. Future biomechanical studies in both football and hockey are needed to better interpret the findings of an increased likelihood for severe head impacts sustained during top of the head impacts in football and specific plays or conditions in hockey.


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